Traveling abroad can be the most exhilarating experience of a lifetime, even more so if you travel solo. The sights you’ll see, the situations you’ll experience, and the people you’ll meet can change your perspective and even alter your life path for the better. While the benefits of travel are well known, there’s also a few things to consider before leaving on your trip – the main one being how to travel safely.
When I was 18, I went on my first trip abroad without my parents. It was a group trip, but there were still times when we were allowed to go off on our own for hours at a time.
Being so young, it was extremely fun but also a bit scary at the same time. Luckily, my parents and the trip organizers prepared me well enough that I was able to go out and explore on my own while being aware of my surroundings and not being taken advantage of.
Thinking about staying safe while traveling will set you up for success and allow you to focus on enjoying new and fun experiences. Preparation is essential; once you have safety plans and backup plans, you’ll have fewer worries to entertain.
Continue reading to discover our top travel safety tips for travelers and some of our favorite gadgets to ensure safety while traveling abroad.
Essential Travel Safety Tips for Trips
1. Buy travel insurance!
Our first travel safety tip is to buy travel insurance! This is particularly important when traveling abroad, as your typical health insurance may not cover you in a foreign country. Our favorite travel insurance company here at ViaTravelers is Safety Wing.
Safety Wing offers travel insurance packages based on trip duration, location, and even the activities you plan on doing during your trip. Whether you’re surfing in Costa Rica, scuba diving in the cenotes of Mexico, or bungee jumping in Chile, Safety Wing has you covered.
The company offers emergency assistance if you require medical assistance or medical evacuation. I highly recommend buying travel insurance so you don’t have to worry about huge medical bills while abroad. It’ll give you peace of mind so you can focus on having fun and creating new memories.
2. Do your research on accommodations
Where you stay could have a significant impact on your vacation safety. Whether staying at a hotel or vacation rental, you should always research the neighborhood and the accommodation itself. Reviews, especially when it comes to vacation rentals, are key.
If you opt for a vacation rental on VRBO or Airbnb, keep all communication between you and the host within the platform. This will come in handy if there are any discrepancies or disputes. These rental sites can’t help you if something happens out of the app without any proof.
My husband and I once rented a vacation rental for our family while visiting Montenegro in the middle of summer. The temperature was in the 90s every single day and the listing said that the house was equipped with AC. When we got there, there was no AC system to be found.
The host claimed the ceiling fans were “like AC” and quickly updated the listing. We contacted Airbnb and got a 50% refund since we ended up staying because there were no other rentals to accommodate our whole family at the last minute.
See Related: Best Websites for Cheap Flights and Hotels
3. Keep your money in multiple locations
If you’ve converted your dollars to the local currency before your trip, you definitely don’t want to keep all that cash on you while you’re out and about. You don’t want to misplace your wallet or purse, or worse: get pick-pocketed and lose possibly hundreds of dollars. For this reason, I highly recommend keeping some emergency money back at your accommodation.
Most hotels and vacation rentals offer safes in your room to use during your stay. I recommend keeping most of your cash in there and keeping only what you need on you while you’re out exploring the place you’re visiting. Unless you absolutely have to, I would recommend only converting enough cash to get you through one day (transportation, food, etc.).
Instead, utilize ATMs and your debit card. Credit cards usually charge huge foreign transaction fees, so a debit card is your best bet. I bank with a credit union that only charges me $1 per ATM withdrawal and offers an excellent conversion rate. If you’re a frequent traveler, it’s worth searching for a bank that does this.
4. Always have an emergency credit card
Emergency cash and credit cards will come in handy if worse comes to worst and your bag is stolen or lost. Similarly to cash, I recommend keeping at least one credit card back at your hotel.
Either in a secure (locked) bag or in a safe. You don’t want to be stuck in a foreign country without access to funds.
If you’re worried that your hotel or vacation rental won’t offer a safe, bring a simple combination lock. This one from Master is TSA-approved, so you can even use it while you’re in transit. It should fit on any kind of zipper or lock on your bag, keeping all of your belongings safe and secure.
5. Contact your credit card company before your trip
One thing that travelers often forget is to contact their credit card company to let them know that they’ll be out of the country. This can leave many travelers in a bind, unable to access their funds exactly when they need them. It can lead to lengthy (and expensive) phone calls with your bank to verify that it’s actually you using your card.
To prevent all this hassle and wasted time, contact your credit card company before your trip. Let them know exactly which countries you’ll be going to and how long you’ll be there for. This way, they can put a note on your account to not block every single charge that is made.
Speaking of credit cards, if you’re a frequent traveler or hoping to be, you should choose a card that will earn you points towards your next trip. The American Express Platinum Credit Card is one of the best and offers so many benefits, including up to $200 in hotel credits, $200 in airline credits, and access to the American Express Global Lounge Collection.
See Related: Best Credit Cards With Lounge Access
6. Protect your personal belongings from pickpockets
You might notice signs warning tourists about pickpocketing while traveling, especially around train stations and other public transportation hubs. It’s an unfortunate nuisance that travelers have to put up with daily. However, you don’t have to fall victim to pickpockets! It takes a lot of vigilance and a few items, but it’s totally possible to make it through your trip without getting anything stolen.
First, you’ll want to make sure that you’re carrying the right kind of bag. Shoulder bags, especially with an open pocket, can make you an easy target. Instead, opt for a crossbody bag that you can slide around to your front. Bags with zippers are more secure than bags with magnetic closures, so try to keep that in mind when deciding on which bags to bring.
If you want to be even safer, opt for a money belt instead. Money belts can go under clothing to conceal your valuables like money, credit cards, and your passport.
Peak Gear’s highly-rated money belt features built-in RFID block protection and can fit multiple passports. It’s slim and can fit comfortably under a shirt or jacket.
Lastly, one of my top international travel safety tips is to never keep your phone in your back pocket. It’s super easy for someone to take it without you noticing. Always keep your phone in a zippered pocket, either in your jacket or bag.
7. Learn a few basic phrases in the local language
One of the best travel safety tips is to learn at least a little bit of the local language before your trip. While many non-English speaking countries have tons of people proficient in English, it’s still highly recommended to learn a little before you go.
Phrases like “thank you”, “please”, and “excuse me, where is X?” can take you a long way. Through my travels, I’ve learned that locals are much more willing to help when you put just a little effort into communicating in the local language instead of automatically speaking English. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and Google Translate is a godsend as long as you have service.
8. Stay aware of your surroundings
In order to travel safely, you must be observant and look confident while you’re out and about. Being aware of your surroundings minimizes your risk of being an easy target and maximizes your personal safety. Double-check that you have all of your belongings every so often.
If you’re in a crowded space, such as a subway train, hold on to your things at all times. It only takes a few seconds for someone to reach into your pocket to steal your phone or a few bucks.
Make sure any expensive stuff and other valuables are secure. If you feel like you’re walking through a sketchy area, be vigilant and get out of there as quickly as possible. Avoid walking alone in alleyways or other non-crowded areas at night.
See Related: Best Places to Travel Alone in the World
9. Carry a personal safety alarm and other safety gadgets
This is one of my top travel safety tips for solo travelers. Even experienced solo travelers can get into situations where they may start to feel unsafe.
One way to equip yourself to travel safely is by carrying a personal safety alarm. It’s a small device that can make a significant impact when it comes to your safety.
I like this one from Birdie. It’s equipped with a super-loud siren and a strobe light that will catch the attention of anyone nearby. It’s useful for travel and everyday life in any situation in which you may feel unsafe.
10. Always lock your hotel room
Connecting to our last tip, you should always lock your hotel room door whether you’re in the room or not. I know this may seem like a no-brainer for most people, but it’s a good tip to remember. Although most hotel rooms automatically lock when closed, you’ll want to take that extra step of locking all the additional locks on the door.
Locking your hotel room adds an extra layer of protection for all of your important stuff. You can take it a step further by bringing some of the safety gadgets mentioned above and traveling with a lockable bag or suitcase.
11. Don’t wear flashy jewelry
Most of us want to show off our best outfits and accessories when on vacation. And while you should definitely wear what you want on vacation, we suggest not wearing too much flashy jewelry. You’re probably safe if you’re just wearing it around your resort, but if you’re out exploring new places, especially at night, you want to be as low-key as possible.
Robberies don’t only happen in a dangerous city; they can happen without you even noticing. Leave the flashy jewelry at home or in your hotel room’s safe.
If you want, you can always replace your most expensive pieces with costume pieces while out and about. Some people opt to wear a silicone wedding band, which is safe for travel and won’t put your real ring in jeopardy.
See Related: Essential Solo Travel Luggage & Accessories
12. Scan your passport, driver’s license, and other important documents
Having multiple copies of important documents can help a ton if you’ve misplaced something or lost it entirely. I always keep a copy of my passport in my luggage as well as in my phone’s photos app. You can also opt to upload these important documents onto a secure online storage service like Google Drive or Dropbox.
If your passport is lost, you should first go to the nearest police station and file a report for a stolen passport. However, it may be unlikely that they will find it or that they will find it in time for you to depart.
If worse comes to worst, head to your nearest embassy to get a replacement passport. While a police report is not mandatory, you’ll have to describe the circumstances regarding how you believe the passport was lost or stolen.
You’ll need several documents, like your driver’s license, a copy of your birth certificate, and your travel itinerary in order to get your new passport. Having copies of these on your phone can definitely help the process move faster.
13. Send out the dates, locations, and accommodation details of your travels to friends and family
Sending a copy of your travel plans to a trusted friend or family member adds an extra layer to your travel safety. It lets your loved ones know exactly where you’ll be in case of emergencies.
This isn’t just for your safety, but if something goes wrong at home and your family is unable to reach you, they can reach out to your hotel to get ahold of you. I’d also recommend sharing your location with your closest family member (a parent, significant other, or sibling) while you’re traveling.
I am always sharing my location using my iPhone with my mom and husband. It’s always good to have in case I feel like I’m in a sketchy area or situation. If you share your location, you can quickly text your loved one to tell them you’re feeling unsafe, and they can see where you are in an instant.
14. Watch your back when using ATMs
Unfortunately, some scammers prey on people while they’re preoccupied with something, such as using an ATM. When you’re using an ATM, you may not notice someone lurking behind you to try to get your private information. Being vigilant while using an ATM is not only a great safety tip for travel but also in general.
Another thing to remember is to not accept unsolicited help from a stranger. ATMs usually offer different language options.
If you’re unable to use the ATM successfully, contact your financial institution. Once your transaction is complete, immediately put all of your belongings back in your bag and be aware of your surroundings.
15. Limit using your phone while walking down the street
Smartphones have become somewhat of an essential travel tool these days. All the information we need to know is easily at our fingertips in an instant.
You can go on the booking.com app to view all of your accommodation information, check Google Maps to see the fastest route to a famous cafe, or go on Viator to check out the fun and unique activities in your area. While this is all amazing, don’t let it distract you while exploring a new city or country.
One way to travel safe is to limit looking down at your phone in public, especially while walking down the street. It’s distracting and can make you an easy target for pickpockets.
If you have to check something, like directions, try to keep it brief or look up from your phone frequently. Always be aware of your surroundings.
16. Keep your insurance information handy and send it to a trusted family member
So you’ve purchased travel insurance – that’s great! But what good is that travel insurance if you cannot access it in an emergency? Emergencies are unexpected and can happen at any moment, so you may not always be prepared with all of your information on hand at any given time. Giving a copy to a trusted family member can help you with the paperwork side of things when getting any assistance you need.
I’d also recommend exchanging insurance information with your travel partner(s) if you feel comfortable doing so. That way, you can help each other out if you need to.
17. Pack a First Aid Kit
The next of our vacation safety tips is to pack a first aid kit. You may not think that this is a necessity on every single trip, but you can customize your first aid kit based on the type of vacation you’re going on. For example, if you’re going on a camping or hiking trip, a basic first aid kit will be perfect.
If you’re visiting a new country in a part of the world you’ve never been to before, you might not be used to local customs and food. In this case, I’d recommend adding some Imodium, probiotics, and electrolyte packets to your first aid kit. If you’re visiting a place at a high altitude, you can include things like Altitude RX and a portable oxygen can.
Being prepared with a first aid kit full of items you may need will ensure that your trip goes as smoothly as possible. To make things easier, you can leave your kit in your luggage at all times and change out any items you don’t need. Also, don’t forget to periodically check expiration dates and replace any expired items.
See Related: Essential Women’s Travel Accessories
18. Try to avoid eating a lot of street food
The sights and smells of a new place are often so inviting that you’ll be enticed into trying new things, and you should! This is one of the most important travel safety tips for anyone who has a bit of a sensitive stomach while traveling. While it can smell and look amazing, sometimes street food can cause food poisoning. While this can also happen at any restaurant anywhere in the world, if you eat street food that has been sitting out, the risks are much higher.
Here are a few of my best tips to avoid food poisoning while traveling:
- If you do want to eat street food, make sure it’s hot and cooked fresh in front of you
- Don’t consume raw or undercooked street food
- Avoid eating bushmeat (wild game, rodents, etc.), especially if you’re not used to it
- Dried or pre-packaged foods are usually safe
- Avoid cut fruit that has been sitting out
19. Drink responsibly
Always drink responsibly. We all want to have a great time on vacation; it’s a time to let loose and take a break from real life.
If you’re drinking at or near your hotel, it’s probably not a huge deal if you have more than a couple of drinks, but remember to pace yourself and keep hydrated. You don’t want to be feeling sick or hungover every day of your vacation.
If you’re drinking off-property, I think it’s important to be even more conscious of your drinking. Trying to get back home while drunk is such an easy way to misplace important belongings, whether they fall out of your pocket or you forget them in a taxi. You’ll not only have a headache from your hangover, but it’ll be a pain to get replacements for any items like your driver’s license or passport, especially if you’re in a different country.
See Related: Interesting, Weird Laws in Germany
20. Beware of local scams
Certain cities are known for specific scams done by professional scammers. For example, in Rome, some scammers will try to give you a rope bracelet and tell you it’s free. But when you accept it, they immediately start heckling you for a “donation” until you are out of the immediate area or they find their next victim.
In Paris, young children will be sitting out on the street, seemingly by themselves, with a clear cup in the middle of the walkway. If you happen to trip over it, you might feel guilted into giving them money.
Scammers are in almost every city, taking advantage of tourists who may not be aware of these scams. Do your research before you go on your own trip and always stay vigilant. If a stranger is trying to convince you that what they’re selling is a good deal, ignore them or look into reviews and the company if you are interested.
21. Know the phone number for emergency services
One thing you’ll definitely want to know before you go somewhere new is the phone number for emergency services. This isn’t just to keep you safe, but it could save the life of someone else. You can usually find the contact information for emergency services from the host of your vacation rental or your hotel when visiting other countries.
In Europe, the general emergency number is 112, just like 911 in the US. The benefit of 112 is that they speak many languages, so you can make the call in English, but it may be a little bit slower than calling the local police or ambulances. For example, in France, you can call 15 for an ambulance, which will be quicker than calling 112, but you may need to be able to speak some French.
In Asia, the emergency number is also 112, while it’s different in every country in South America. Canada and Mexico also use 911, just like the US.
22. Keep valuables on you at all times while in transit
When thinking of safe ways to travel, you also want to consider the safety of your belongings. One of our top tips for traveling safely is to keep all your valuables on you at all times while in transit. So whether you’re on an airplane, train, or bus, you should always keep your most important items within your reach at all times.
It’s common knowledge to never put your laptop or expensive camera gear in your checked luggage. They can get damaged, lost, or stolen. It’s also wise to extend this rule to buses and trains.
You may have to store bigger bags in the undercarriage of the bus or in a designated spot on the train that may be far from your seat. Always take out any valuables and put them into your purse or backpack.
Some things that you want to keep on you while transiting from place to place include your passport, laptop, any other electronics, important documents, and medications.
23. Be around other people during high-risk situations
One of our top tips for traveling solo and staying safe is to be around other people during high-risk situations. You always want to trust your instincts, so if you perceive that you’re about to be in a possibly unsafe situation, it’s better to err on the safe side.
For example, if you’re walking alone at night and you feel like you’re possibly being followed, try to get near a group of people. This may mean ducking into the nearest bar until the person is out of sight or simply inserting yourself into a group of friends.
It may feel awkward, but you could end up making new friends. At the very least, you’d be getting yourself out of a potentially dangerous situation.
Paying attention to the people around you, whether you’re on the street or on public transportation, will keep you safe and make you feel more confident while traveling alone.
See Related: Must-Have Tips to Avoid Having a Boring Vacation
24. Always listen to posted signs
This is one of those travel safety tips that sounds like a no-brainer in theory but may seem hard to follow in some situations. Whether you’re visiting other countries or nearby state parks, you always want to listen and follow any signs that are posted. Ultimately, these signs are there for our safety, and disobeying any rules could lead to an unsafe situation and is definitely a bad idea.
There’s a stunning viewpoint in Zakynthos of Shipwreck Beach that’s become a popular Instagram spot. I went a few years ago and could go right to the edge of the cliff to get the perfect photo.
Before going, I read an article about a woman who fell to her death as she was taking a photo at that very spot. I made sure to be super careful not to get too close to the edge, but I thought about how a big gust of wind could change everything.
I went back again in 2022 only to find a big fence up with only a small area for photos surrounded by metal rails and a giant line of people. Did it suck standing in line for a view and a photo? Heck yeah. But it’s a lot better than more people falling and getting injured or dying.
25. Register with the State Department on extended trips
One of the simplest travel safety tips is to register with the State Department’s STEP program. STEP stands for Smart Traveler Enrollment Program and is completely free to register. It easily allows you to register your upcoming trip with the State Department, no matter how short or how long.
Once you register, the nearest embassy will be able to contact you in case of any new travel advisories, natural disasters, or civil unrest. Additionally, if your family cannot contact you for whatever reason, they can contact the State Department, which can then contact you in case of a family emergency.
There are really no downsides to registering for the STEP program. It allows you to stay informed and connected no matter what is happening.
You can also register with the State Department to get updates on certain countries, even when you have no upcoming travel plans. This is great for parents of students studying abroad or if you have any loved ones living abroad.